Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Venerated as the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed: the founder of Islam, it is the fifth pillar of Islam. Muslims the world over are required to go, at least once in their lifetime, to Mecca. Drawing millions annually from around the globe, the Hajj is one of the largest pilgrimages. And an unequivocal demonstration of the solidarity of Muslims from across the continents and their submission to Allah (God). Hajj, accordingly, is integral to an understanding Islam. This book seeks to gather the history, the voices of pilgrims, and material culture associated with Hajj. Conceived as a companion to the British Museum exhibition: Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, it is also an effort to understand what Hajj means to Muslims now, and what it has meant through the centuries.
Replete with exquisite photographs, the book tells afresh the history of Hajj: from its beginnings in the 7th century to the present day -- focusing on the rituals, the main routes to Mecca, and the experiences of the pilgrims themselves. Including several stimulating essays: each written by a leading expert, it shows how running in parallel with the history of Hajj is the story of material culture that surrounds it -- whether paintings evoking the journey; archaeological finds from the Hajj routes; manuscripts; historic photographs; and tiles illustrating the holy sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina; or scientific instruments for determining the direction of Mecca. In addition, there are the objects taken by pilgrims on Hajj or brought back as souvenirs, and the beautiful textiles made annually, specially for the Ka’ba. The works of photography, painting and sculpture by contemporary artists add a further dimension to the art of Hajj. All of these complement and personalize the history, allowing us to glimpse the experience through individuals, deepen our understanding, and see how art has been used in service of Islam.
Venetia Porter is a curator of Islamic Middle Eastern Art at the British Museum.